In the FCS Huddle: Focused Bison will prove best again
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The most telling aspect of North Dakota State's quest for a third straight FCS national championship appeared to show up in November.
Then December came along. And the Bison truly indicated how much they are playing on an otherwordly level this season.
North Dakota State hopes to complete its mission on Saturday in Frisco, Texas, when it takes on Towson in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game at Toyota Stadium. The Bison are trying to equal the record three straight FCS national titles won by Appalachian State from 2005-07 as well as the FCS record of 24 straight wins, held by Montana and Penn.
This season has been all about the Bison (14-0) gaining the championship three-peat. Beating Kansas State on national television to open the season and winning a third straight Missouri Valley Football Conference title were outstanding, but their season was always going to be judged by how they finished in the postseason.
As the Bison made their way to the expanded, 24-team playoffs, fifth-year senior quarterback Brock Jensen said something particularly telling about his veteran team. As they were increasing their unbeaten record and fending off being the target on everybody else's schedule, the Bison weren't just going through the motions in the regular season or playing not to lose.
"The difference in this year than previous years is we haven't peaked at all, we're continuing to get better and better every week," the winningest quarterback in FCS history said in November. "I was just thinking about it. Last year, we were kind of just riding along a little bit - not getting any better, not getting any worse, just kind of coasting through this part of the season and just kind of hanging on a little bit, whereas this year we're a well-oiled machine right now. We're getting better every week. That's really encouraging."
North Dakota State, built on defense but so much more with a punishing run game and terrific special teams, shut out three opponents and kept seven to 10 or fewer points during the regular season.
The top-seeded Bison then rested through a bye in the first round of the playoffs before handling Furman, 38-7, in the second round on Dec. 7. Shortly after the win, though, it was learned that 11th-year head coach Craig Bohl had accepted the head coaching position at the University of Wyoming.
That became the new story for the Bison. Or at least it should have become the new story.
Wyoming allowed Bohl to stay on through the playoff run, and 3 1/2 weeks later, he's still leading the Bison instead of settling in with his new program. And, most telling about the mindset of the NDSU team, the Bison have come together with even more focus and played at an even higher level, dominating Coastal Carolina, 48-14, in the national quarterfinals and New Hampshire, 52-14, in the semifinals.
"I guess the best thing I know in putting to rest distractions, I think we're playing the best football we've played all year right now," Bohl said. "That was even after I made this announcement. So that's a real tribute to those players and our coaches."
The moment the Bison arrive in Frisco on Wednesday, they'll believe Frisco still belongs to them. From championship week experience to fan support to their play on the field.
Towson will only be hoping Frisco belongs to it.
And it won't, as good as the Tigers also have been for the past three seasons under coach Rob Ambrose.
North Dakota State's destiny is one of an FCS dynasty. The Bison will win their third straight national championship.
PREDICTION: North Dakota State 31, Towson 17.